Student Well-Being

Indicators Can Help Predict Possible Post-Concussion Symptoms in Youth Athletes

By Gina Cairney — February 08, 2013 2 min read
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Adolescent athletes who go to the emergency room with headaches after sustaining a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), and then require hospital admissions are at a higher risk of developing post-concussions symptoms, a new study finds.

Of the 481 children and adolescents, between 5 and 18 years old, enrolled in the study, 406 completed a 3-month follow up. The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that 29.3 percent of those youth with mTBI developed post-concussion symptoms, indicating headaches as the most common symptom on a post-concussion survey questionnaire.

Post-concussion symptoms, according to the study, can be a “cluster” of cognitive, physiological, and emotional problems.

These students also missed, on average, a week of school which, given the number of children with mTBI and high incidences of post-concussion symptoms, implies a significant health burden within this specific population.

Sadly, there’s currently no reliable way to effectively predict whether a young athlete will develop post-concussion symptoms at the time they sustain a head injury, but the study suggests key indicators that health professionals can use to determine the likelihood that an athlete will develop symptoms, including:

• adolescent’s age,
• signs of headache symptoms at the time of the emergency room visit, and
• admission to the hospital

Another study found that 10 percent of children will have experienced at least one head injury requiring medical attention by the time they reach age 10.

Analyzing over 800 studies that examined persistent concussion symptoms in children following a head injury, the study revealed that mTBI was one of the most common injuries among children and adolescents, occurring in 6 to 59 percent of the youth population between 9 and 22 years old.

While most patients are seen to recover within a week of sustaining a head injury, growing research shows that concussion symptoms can persist for months, even years, after the initial concussion, which may lead to the development of a neurodegenerative disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.

The study also found that risks of persistent concussion syndrome were higher in older children who already have a history of lost consciousness and headaches or nausea, symptoms which can also be predictors of prolonged post-concussion symptoms.

Both of these studies reveal that guidance is needed to assist health professionals and youth sports coaches with managing post-concussion symptoms in children. But without an accurate way to determine which youth athlete will develop prolonged symptoms it is difficult to recommend with certainty recovery and management programs.

While there are no known tools or methods to determine the development of post-concussion symptoms in youth athletes who sustain mTBI, scientists have discovered a way to possibly identify CTE in living athletes.

It’s still too early to tell the extent to which this method can be used on youth athletes, but the mere discovery in itself could prove useful in the future as school athletics directors and coaches figure out ways to keep their student-athletes safe from immediate, and future harm.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.